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    Tomb Raider I-III Remastered Review – A Great, but Not Perfect Remaster

    These low poly adventures hold up, for the most part.

    There is nothing quite like the classic Core Design Tomb Raider games. These titles are from an era when the 3D platforming genre was still in its infancy. There wasn’t much in terms of precedents set and conventions to follow. Developers had to get imaginative to make things work, and the old Tomb Raider games are a perfect example of this. With this in mind, can Tomb Raider I-III Remastered prove that the original trilogy has stood the test of time? 

    I have nostalgic memories of exploring Venice in Tomb Raider II as a kid. Despite this, these games proved to be a little too challenging for my younger self. You might think that this hurt my enjoyment back then, and to an extent it did. However, there was something about these old games that I found incredibly appealing.

    While it’s partially due to technical limitations of the time, these titles have a very distinct atmosphere the series has rarely been able to capture ever since. There’s a sense of isolation and challenge that makes these games incredibly satisfying to play once you understand their quirks. Playing this collection has reminded me of what made the Tomb Raider franchise so strong to begin with. 

    Same Old Games With a New Coat of Paint

    Exploring Venice in Tomb Raider 2

    Make no mistake, the title of this collection does not lie. This is very much a remaster and not a remake of the original Tomb Raider trilogy. Besides the introduction of a modern control method, these games play exactly the way you remember. if you have never played a Core Design Tomb Raider game before, it may take some adjusting. 

    Besides a few quality-of-life improvements here and there, the only big change is the updated visuals. High-resolution textures, new character models, and overhauled lighting make these games a bit more appealing to the eyes. Even then, the games still look somewhat old due to their blocky geometry, which is integral to how these games play. 

    As you may already know, these games utilize a grid-based system for their platforming. The experience as a whole would be much less functional without these somewhat primitive 3D game environments. For many, this is excellent, as this allows the preservation of the original level design, which is arguably the most important aspect of these games. 

    Is Classic Tomb Raider Still Fun? 

    Exploring Egypt in Tomb Raider

    It’s not too uncommon to hear the claim that the original games don’t hold up well. To some extent, I completely understand this claim. It’s almost undeniable that most new players will experience a harsh learning curve. There are very few 3D platformers that play anything like Tomb Raider I-III. These games are designed to be played with a D-pad using tank controls. 

    If you are new to the classic series, you shouldn’t go in expecting an experience like Uncharted. Instead, these games are closer to old-school survival horror titles and FromSoftware games by comparison. There’s very little guidance given to the player, making it somewhat of a challenge to learn how to play properly. Add a slow pace and isolating atmosphere to this, and you have a recipe for a game that may feel quite dated to many. 

    Even though controlling Lara Croft may feel clunky at first (assuming you are using the default tank controls), there is one aspect of these games that does not show their age at all. Excellent level design never gets old, and Tomb Raider I-III is full of awesome environments to explore. Once you get over that initial hurdle, these games become an absolute joy to play. 

    The Challenge of Being a Tomb Raider

    The Tomb of Qualopec level

    I strongly recommend you play Tomb Raider I-III Remastered without the modern controls enabled. It will become quickly apparent why this is the case, as these games are very carefully designed around tank controls. With modern controls, the camera is often at odds with what you intend to do. While this is unfortunate, I don’t know exactly how Aspyr would have gone about successfully implementing a more intuitive control scheme without fundamentally changing these games.

    With the original tank controls enabled, you will be able to control Lara Croft with nearly perfect precision. She will always move the way you expect, but you also need to be sure of the buttons you are pressing. Classic Tomb Raider games will often harshly punish the player for lazy inputs, making the platforming all the more intense. Eventually, these old controls will become second nature, making for a more enjoyable experience.

    Each game assumes that you have played the last, meaning that you absolutely should start with the first title. Unlike its sequels, it will ease you into the challenge with a far more consistent difficulty curve. In fact, the third game in particular expects you to have a fairly intimate knowledge of the game’s mechanics. By playing these titles in order, the overall experience will be considerably less frustrating. 

    Adventures Worth Remembering

    Exploring St Francis' Folly in Tomb Raider

    It’s hard not to be impressed by just how expansive some of these 3D environments are for games that were originally meant to run on an original PlayStation. It’s easy to get lost exploring every nook and cranny of a stage, and to some extent, you need to. With this remaster, these areas look so much more alive with the new lighting, yet it still doesn’t interfere very much with the original art direction of these games. 

    To see how these levels originally looked, the player can switch to a classic graphics mode at the push of a button. Additionally, these old visuals include a reduced frame rate to mimic how these games performed back then. Switching between these graphics modes is instantaneous, and the difference between the two can be night and day. In at least one case, I mean this quite literally. 

    Despite this, the general atmosphere of each location remains intact. Video footage of this remastered collection doesn’t do it very much justice. When playing, the image quality is superb and the lighting looks very natural. This doesn’t even come at any performance cost. Tomb Raider I-III Remastered will run smoothly on practically any modern hardware you can throw at it. 

    A Remaster Done Right… Mostly

    Tomb Raider III Jungle level

    It’s very fortunate the classic visuals can be toggled at the press of a button, as the new lighting can sometimes greatly affect the player’s ability to analyze these stages. In some cases, areas can be too dimly lit, and in others, it can be far too easy to find hidden items and secrets. Furthermore, while the new vegetation looks quite nice, it can get in the way of being able to see platforms properly. I often found myself switching between the remastered and classic visuals because of this.

    Pre-rendered cutscenes appear to only be upscaled. It’s definitely no deal breaker, but it would’ve been nice to see these cutscenes faithfully remade with new models and lighting. The old cutscenes simply do not mix with the remastered visuals of these games. It’s a bit jarring to end a level with the beautiful new graphics only to see such an obvious relic of the 90s. 

    If you are playing on a PC, there is a baffling omission of graphics options. To be fair, these games can run on just about anything, but there really is nothing you can change here. The game’s resolution is set automatically with no way to adjust it while playing. If you wanted to toggle VSync or any aspect of the game’s visuals at all, you can’t. If it weren’t for the fact that the game runs nearly flawlessly on lower-end devices such as the Steam Deck, this would be a bigger issue. 

    Tomb Raider I-III Remastered Is Worth Your Time

    Exploring the colosseum level

    Let me be clear, Tomb Raider I-III Remastered will not appeal to everyone. If tank controls are a dealbreaker for you, it’s probably a good idea to give this collection a pass. These games can be quite difficult and they are not perfect by any means. However, if you approach these games with an open mind, there is a lot to love here. 

    This collection is up there with some of the better remasters that come to mind. It’s not quite as good as last year’s Metroid Prime Remastered, but it doesn’t feel like a cheap cash grab either. There is no shortage of content either, as each of these games takes approximately 15-20 hours to beat without a guide. Additionally, the expansions of all three games are included as well, making for a package with some great value. 

    Tomb Raider I-III Remastered reminds me of what makes the Tomb Raider series so special. These games have a strong sense of identity that I feel like later sequels (especially the recent reboot trilogy) lacked. These titles deserve their status as gaming classics and it’s easy to see why they were so popular back in the 90s. There’s more to these games than just their iconic lead character. 

    For more reviews, be sure to keep an eye on Final Weapon! Tomb Raider I-III Remastered is currently available for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC. 

    SUMMARY

    Tomb Raider I-III Remastered proves that there is still a lot to love about Core Design's vision of the franchise. While there are noticeable issues, these don't break what is otherwise still a fantastic experience for those who are willing to look past them. Perhaps future Tomb Raider games should take some notes.
    Itch
    Itch
    Itch has a strong passion for PC gaming and retro consoles (especially the Dreamcast). From Melty Blood: Actress Again to Forza Horizon, he will play just about anything that catches his eye. Ever since playing Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit as a young child, he has been in love with the medium of video games and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.

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    Tomb Raider I-III Remastered proves that there is still a lot to love about Core Design's vision of the franchise. While there are noticeable issues, these don't break what is otherwise still a fantastic experience for those who are willing to look past them. Perhaps future Tomb Raider games should take some notes. Tomb Raider I-III Remastered Review - A Great, but Not Perfect Remaster